Legislative body requires teamwork

by Steve Fair

The Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives is the presiding officer of the body. The office was established in Article 1 of the U.S. Constitution. The Speaker is the political and parliamentary leader of the House, as well as the presiding officer.  The Speaker serves as the de facto leader of the House majority Party and the head of the administration for the House. The Constitution does not require the Speaker to be a member of the body, however all thus far have been.  

There are 435 members of the U.S. House. A Speaker must receive 218 votes to be elected (a simple majority).  Most Speakers are elected on the first ballot. There have been 14 instances in U.S. history where the Speaker’s race required multiple ballots- the last time in 1923, when Rep. Frederick Gillett, (R-MA) was elected on the ninth ballot.   

The 2023 race for Speaker has taken a similar turn.  Rep. Kevin McCarthy, (R-CA), the House minority leader the past four years has failed to reach the 218 votes on seven ballots.  This after former President Trump publicly urged Republican members to unite behind McCarthy.  Trump’s endorsement of McCarthy did not get him one vote on the next ballot.

Twenty Republican members of the House, including newly elected Rep. Josh Brecheen, (R-OK), refuse to coalesce/unify behind 200 other Republicans to elect McCarthy.  These hold-out members constitute the ‘Freedom’ caucus.  It appears McCarthy can’t be elected without their support.  

The 20 member Freedom caucus has demanded the threshold needed to call a vote of confidence in the Speaker be lowered.  The Freedom caucus has called for lower taxes, a reduction of the national debt, and a lowering of the federal budget deficit.  They also have demanded seats on powerful committees.  

McCarthy has agreed to many of their demands, but in doing so has angered some of the more moderate members of the Republican caucus, which could lose him votes from that group.    

Three observations:

First, a legislative body requires teamwork.  No individual member of a 435 member body can get much accomplished.  They have to work with others to accomplish anything.  Collaboration, negotiation, and cooperation are necessary skills to get legislation passed.  Failure to work with other members of the body will limit effectiveness of a member.  Too many uncooperative team members kill a team’s goals and objectives.   Effective governing requires willingness to give and take.  Being obstructive is not constructive. Helen Keller said, “Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.” 

Second, some people will take nothing instead of something.  Some people are not wired to negotiate.  They consider any concession an unnecessary compromise.  They are intolerant of an alternate viewpoint.  Bargaining is for the feeble.  They would rather lose than compromise their convictions.  They are willing to accept a liberal over a moderate to prove their point.  

Third, the tail is trying to wag the dog in the GOP. The twenty members of the Freedom caucus constitute just 10% of the House GOP caucus, yet they are attempting to exercise proportionally more power than their numbers dictate.  Can this same group use their influence and power to change the rules in the House, get America fiscally back on track, and reduce the government footprint?  All worthy goals, but will they alienate potential supporters of their agenda by demanding, ‘all or nothing,’ and walk away empty handed?   

A distinct possibility is Rep. McCarthy withdraws and Republicans put up a ‘moderate/centrist’ GOP candidate for Speaker- one who the ‘blue dog’ Democrats can support.  The ‘middle of the roader’ is elected with the Democrats help.  The Freedom caucus then loses all their influence and power and becomes irreverent.

There is a fine line between negotiating and quibbling.  If negotiating gets personal, both parties lose.  Good negotiators are tough, but they know when to quit.  For them, it’s not all or nothing.  They understand the art of the deal.

Steve Fair is Chairman of the 4th district of the Oklahoma Republican Party.  He can be reached by email at steve.fair@ymail.com.  His blog is stevefair.blogspot.com.